photo by Marge Nelk
words by Joey Phoenix

The Chagall Performing Arts Collaborative (ChagallPAC) has opened up shop on Artists Row in downtown Salem, moving into the space formerly occupied by the locally esteemed woodturner Tommy Gagnon. ChagallPAC plans to transform the space into an education center, art incubator, collaborative space, and art showcase venue. 

It may sound ambitious, but this is something that directors Diana Norma Szokolyai and Dennis Shafer have been doing for the last twelve years. The duo, partners in every sense of the term, met in Paris in 2006 where they started making poetry and music as collaborators under the name “Sounds in Bloom.” Not long after, the two began to creatively work with other interdisciplinary artists in the area, modeling their artistic meetups after the Parisians salons of the 1920s and 30s. 

They named the collaborative after interdisciplinary Russian-French artist Marc Chagall, who lived and worked with individuals like Matisse and Picasso. Chagall was a painter, book illustrator, ceramicist, stained-glass painter, stage set designer, and tapestry maker during his lifetime. 

From Paris, they moved to Brooklyn, New York, where they hosted Chagall-esque salon events in their living room and around the city and, once a month, at Zeitgest Gallery in Cambridge. This went on for a while until the couple had kids and they decided it was time to come back to the Boston area for good. 

“We knew better as artists. We knew there was more space elsewhere.” Dennis says. 

The studio on Artists Row is an opportunity for them to do the kind of things that they’ve always wanted to do outside of their home, and be able to invite more artists to come in and feature their work to the public. 

“Moving into a physical space is really exciting for us because we get to showcase the visual art. the handicraft, and the things that we’re making in our collaborative maker space to the community at large in Salem and to the world that’s visiting Salem,” Diana Norma explains. 

The studio itself has many purposes, as an education center and performance showcase, certainly, but there are also physical items in the store that people can come in and purchase, knowing that they’re made by local, talented artists. Some of the offerings include Dennis’s paper maché sculptures, Diana Norma’s essays and poetry, stuffed-monsters by costume designer Lee Davis, handmade jewelry by flute teacher Julee Avallone, custom-embroidered designs by Intramersive owner Carly Dwyer Naik, among many others. 

Salon-style Interdisciplinary Arts Cabaret

Now that they’re situated on Artist’s Row in Salem, they are launching an ongoing series of events they are calling a Salon-style Interdisciplinary Arts Cabaret.

These events will happen on Tuesdays and Thursdays through the end of the year, featuring solo performances from cellists, dancers, poets, and performers – with a twist. The performers will each do a set and then, at the end of the night, everyone will get together and jam. 

Most of the performers who’ve worked with Chagall over the years are interdisciplinary artists. If someone’s a painter they’re probably also a poet or a dancer or musician. Or, at the very least, everyone dabbles in a handful of things. 

“For our launch event a couple of weeks ago,” Diana Norma begins, “that was a collaboration that featured visual arts, dance, poetry, and music centered around Benjamin Britten’s Metamorphoses, which was inspired by Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

“We just love art that talks to art.”  

While it may be easy to think that all of these moving parts happened in succession, one politely following the other, this just wasn’t the case. 

“On one side of the street Dennis was playing Britten’s pieces for solo saxophone,” Diana Norma describes, “on the other side was a dancer performing to the sax solos, a painter from Bordeaux, Etienne Rolin, had created paintings for each movement of Metamorphoses which we projected onto the ground, and I wrote poetry which I performed at interludes.” 

People who came to the performance space, because it was a public avenue, were greeted with a tunnel of sound. Many stopped to listen and take in what was happening, curious about the joyful cacophony. 

“We really love bringing different artists together and seeing how many ways we can explore a certain theme. We might be just reacting to the music or a painting, but there’s structure, it’s not just a free-for-all. There’s a lot of depth, it’s so joyful,” Diana Norma adds. 

ChagallPAC’s next event is coming up on Tuesday, October 15, and will feature balloon artist Mr. Balloon Wizard, and performances by solo cellist Gil Selinger, and pianist Robbie Tate. The event will culminate in an off the cuff jam between all of the above, which is something that will have never been seen before, and probably will never be again. 

In addition to the performance and collaborative space, Diana Norma and Dennis really want the space to be an ongoing education center where students of all ages can come to learn the art of their choice. Dennis teaches lessons on saxophone, clarinet, flute, trumpet, piano, and trombone, Diana Norma teaches writing workshops, and the two of them are planning to invite others into the space to teach their skills as well. 

ChagallPAC will have scheduled events on Tuesdays and Thursdays through the end of October, with a special showing of Nosferatu with live soundpainting on Friday, October 18th @ 7:30 pm. 

“We have done performances in Paris, New York, Portland, Oregon, and all over for the past 12 years.” Diana Norma adds “We’re really excited to have our first home studio and we welcome everyone to come explore.” 


To Hire or Collaborate with ChagallPAC

To book a music lesson, visit anemosnewmusic.com/chagallpac

To book creative writing workshops, visit diananorma.com

For all other inquiries, write ChagallPAC@gmail.com or stop by the studio any day of the week, art will be made and all are welcome to join.

Follow ChagallPAC on Facebook to stay tuned for future events/info!


Upcoming Events

Tuesday 10/15 6pm Mr Balloon Wizard 7pm Gil Selinger, solo cello 8pm Robbie Pate piano duo series

Tuesday 10/17 6pm Solo Cello, 7pm Sound Healing with Lisa Kawski, 8:30pm music with jazz pianist Matt Savage and Friends

Friday 10/18 Nosferatu Silent Film with Live Film Score Soundpainter by ChagallPAC

Tuesday 10/22 Improbable Poetry Tour meets ChagallPAC with Colleen Michaels, Kevin Carey, JD Scrimgeour, and ChagallPAC artists

Thursday 10/24 Dennis Shafer and Friends, feat. rock group Fractal C

Friday 10/25 Costume Night and Instagram Photo Booth 


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Joey Phoenix is a performance artist and the Managing Editor of Creative North Shore. If you have an idea for a story, feature, or pictures of adorable llamas, feel free to send them a message at joeyphoenix@creativecollectivema.com


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